Mayor, White laud county’s decision

Published 10:47 pm Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Covington County Commission’s 3-2 decision earlier this week to move to a unit system of road management is drawing praise from city leaders and a former commission chairman.

“The vote to go to the unit system was extraordinarily important to the future of our community,” Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson said.

“When Elmore County — which is of similar size — did this, they saved $2 million and in Crenshaw they saved $1 million a year,” Johnson said. “If we just fall in between those, the county can get out of trouble pretty quickly.”

When it became apparent that actual revenues would fall below budgeted revenues this year, the county began looking at possible expense cuts. After each area of operation cut at least 2 percent from the current budget, commissioners were still staring at red ink.

On Monday, Commissioner Bragg Carter said the county had to stop waiting for things to get better and make a decision to help “weather the storm.” With that, he made a motion to move to the unit system. Commissioner David Ellis supported the move with a second. When the remaining commissioners, Carl Turman and Harold Elmore, voted against the motion, Chairman Lynn Sasser was forced to break the tie. He, too, supported the unit system.

“If you see these guys who voted in favor of that, tell them thank you,” Johnson urged.

Johnson said county government has been a “very good partner” for economic development projects.

“Some things wouldn’t have occurred without them,” he said.

Former Commission Chairman Greg White also praised the action.

“I am very pleased the commission took this step,” White said. “I congratulate them on the decision.

“I felt very strongly three or four years ago that the lack of growth in gas tax revenue could best be addressed by moving to the unit system,” he said.

Counties collect gasoline taxes, which are earmarked for road and bridge repairs. However, the tax is per gallon, not based on the total price of gasoline. Even though gas prices increased, the taxes collected did not increase.

White said there are positive points in both the unit and district systems, but the unit system should be the most cost-effective.

“It will cut duplication of investment, and allow for more efficient road work across the county,” White said. “The commissioners will still have the privilege of seeing that service is delivered.

“I only regret that I was unable to get enough votes on the commission to move to the unit system four years ago,” he said.